What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of a blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Next up: Matt from Land-Grant Holy Land, SB Nation's excellent blog for all things Buckeye.
1) Are there any similarities in Ohio State's recent losses to Illinois and Michigan State? Does this Buckeye team have any particular Achilles' heel or were those just two bad days at the office for OSU?
I think the two games certainly started out similarly, as Ohio State combined listless ball handling and poor offensive execution to get themselves into a big hole early. At Illinois, after the first six minutes or so went about as badly as possible for the Buckeyes, they sort of folded, and never made a run. Against Michigan State, Deshaun Thomas promptly buried two three pointers and the Bucks went on a 13-0 to grab the lead again. I'd say Illinois was a bit of an aberration, since Ohio State struggled with *everything*, not just their typical problems, while Michigan State is far more indicative of the kind of team Ohio State is. As for their Achilles' Heel, the thing you've probably read about a ton of times is Ohio State's lack of a consistent second offensive option behind Thomas. That's certainly a big problem, and you can't think of a better example than the Michigan State game, where Thomas dropped 28 and the next highest scorer at 6. Besides that, Ohio State is not a very good free throw shooting team, and has struggled with turnovers and offensive efficiency in their league losses.
2) Ohio State seems to depend on Deshaun Thomas to an almost unhealthy degree. He's an excellent player, to be sure, but he's leading OSU in minutes per game, scoring, rebounds, and among the leaders in all shooting percentages, too (despite leading the Buckeyes in attempts by an enormous margin). That's a lot of eggs in one basket. Who else does OSU have to help Thomas carry the load? Who are some players Iowa fans should know about?
Iowa fans absolutely need to know about Aaron Craft, but we can talk about him later. Offensively, the pickings get a little slim. Lenzelle Smith is Ohio State's second leading scorer at 10.1 ppg. He's a capable three point threat and a solid rebounder for his size. You'll probably become familiar with FLYIN' SAM THOMPSON DOT GIF, our freakishly athletic dunk threat who is good for at least one highlight play a game. He isn't a great shooter, but he gets out on the break, you're going to be on SportsCenter. LaQuinton Ross is probably the X factor for the Buckeyes. He's 4th on the team in scoring despite playing less than 17 min a game, and has the highest offensive ceiling. He also can't dribble or defend and can be maddeningly frustrating to watch. If he puts together a complete game though, Ohio State can beat anybody.
3) Aaron Craft is a wonderful defender and a very good distributor, but he's seemed to struggle at scoring this year. He's only averaging 8.7 ppg, is shooting just 39% from the field, and only 33% from deep, which are among the worst figures of his career. Is it just bad luck? Is he pressing too much? Are teams defending him differently this year?
I think he might have been pressing a little bit, but he also is who he is. Aaron Craft's game isn't about being a big scoring threat. He's more like Eric Snow, in that he's most valuable as an on the ball defender and distributor. I've said that Craft is our second best offensive player even if he never shoots, just because he's able to create transition baskets with his superior defense. He's also decent at driving to the basket, but in a perfect world, he's not taking three pointers. I think defenders are happy to let him fire away, and hit 20, 25% of those shots.
4) Does the P.A. guy at Value City Arena play Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" when Amedeo Della Valle enters the game? It seems like he really should.
They totally should, right? If the Buckeyes have more games like Michigan State, they might have to break the emergency glass on Della Valle a little more often. He may not be good at anything else yet, but the man can shoot.
5) What's the ceiling for this particular Ohio State team? OSU has been a national title contender the last few years -- is that still on the table with this team? What would constitute a successful season for OSU this year in your view?
I think we kinda thought Ohio State was a little overrated coming into the season, since having the post presence of a Sullinger hid a lot of the jump shooting problems that the other Buckeyes had. They're still one of the best team defensive teams in the Big Ten, and have the single best scorer, so Ohio State will have a puncher's chance in every game they play. I think a 4 seed and a Sweet 16 birth would be enough for our faithful to not think this season was a disappointment, and that is certainly obtainable, even if a Big Ten League Title probably isn't.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
Ohio State will win by 10, and FINALLY, somebody else will find a way to hit double figures. Let's go 68-58 Ohio State.
Thanks for being a good sport, Matt. You can check out Matt and the rest of the LGHL crew at Land-Grant Holy Land. You can also follow him on Twitter at @MattLGHL and LGHL at @Landgrant33. The Iowa-Ohio State game is in Columbus on Tuesday, January 22 at 5:30pm CT, with television coverage from BTN.